By Scott Levine
A proposal by Parks and Recreation Department Director Gregg Obren caught my eye this week.
He will present a budget plan to the city of Clinton that will attempt to utilize sponsorships to either reduce the financial burden on the city or increase activities offered by the recreation department. During a recent Clinton Herald Editorial Board meeting, this is something that we discussed as ways we believed would help the city battle against future budget shortfalls. So it was refreshing when Staff Writer Katie Dahlstrom, who was investigating on whether the city had thought of this strategy, told me that Obren had already developed this plan.
As a tax-paying member of this community, as well as someone dedicated to making Clinton better, it’s nice to hear a city official develop ways to find other funding sources, instead of demanding more money or complaining about the plight of the department. This could be a real boon to the community, especially since recreation is a key component to improving quality of life for Clinton residents. Also, it’s something that attracts potential homeowners.
The department already provides plenty of services, like youth and adult sports, activities for children, and operating city-owned recreational facilities. This includes operating the city swimming pool, which has closed earlier and earlier every year.
Obren says the demand isn’t high enough to keep the pool open for a longer period of time, while some swimmers, including lap swimmers, say the facility should be open until at least Labor Day. The pool is tentatively scheduled to close Aug. 11 this year, which is three weeks before the official end of summer, Labor Day.
The pool’s closure coincides with area schools starting earlier, which is another argument in itself. Shortening summer has become a tradition for Iowa schoolchildren, even though it greatly affects tourism for the community. And from all the attention being devoted by Iowa legislators toward education, it doesn’t appear that starting closer to the beginning of August is helping academics in Iowa.
Obviously the demand would be smaller when school starts. The majority of patrons at swimming pools are kids, and if they’re in school, there’s not much money pouring into the facility.
But I find it hard to believe that the pool can’t at least stay open on the weekends for the final three weeks of August. Promoting Clinton’s recreational opportunities is crucial to improving attitude and welcoming guests. And although operating the pool represents only a short season for parks and recreation employees, it’s important.
By completely closing the pool, the city is telling guests and area families that we’re closed for the summer, which forces them to go to other establishments, like the DeWitt pool, which stays open for the duration of August. Other swimming establishments that responded to questions said they close early, but it’s not due to a severe lack of attendance, but because of staff.
Staffing isn’t a problem for Clinton, Obren says. Instead, Clinton suffers from a lack of paying customers. Lap swimmers have season passes, so they wouldn’t generate enough income to subsidize operating the pool. Cost projections for operating the pool only on the weekends and how much income that would attract are not available as of now. Hopefully that will be known soon to give a true cost of operations.
Even if the demand shrinks, the perception is not good for Clinton when people see the pool deserted by mid-August. This is an amenity that should be available during the summer, even if it’s there for just the weekends.
It’s about doing what’s best for the community. Even if less people visit the pool during the latter part of August, imagine the negativity developing in families’ minds when finding out the pool isn’t open when it’s still 90 degrees. Developing the year’s budget is a time for city officials and department heads to decide what’s best for the city and figure out ways to pay for those services. Obren is on the right track by finding sponsorships to possibly increase the availability of recreational opportunities. I’m hoping the same amount of work will be done to find ways to keep the pool open until Labor Day, even if it’s only for the weekends.
Scott Levine is the associate editor of the Clinton Herald. He can be reached at email@example.com.